Stan and Grace Cohen were a delightful couple. They were at the threshold of their golden years. At our first appointment they opened the door and greeted me together, then together we slowly toured their home. Stan was the tour guide and family historian; Grace was Stan’s editor. The home tour, their story and the meeting as a whole could not have gone better.
A year ago the Cohen’s had remodeled the kitchen and knocked out two adjacent walls to create a “Great Room/Kitchen” area. Now they were ready for the Decorator. Grace had magazine pics of rooms they liked and after looking at the pics, the room, Stan and Grace, I knew just what they needed! I designed the room aloud, with much waving, pointing and nodding and the Cohens concurred. We ended the meeting as new BFFs. I sent them an overview and a “Letter of Agreement.” Once signed, we met to review the results of my research.
Not a lot of choices, just the agreed “look.” I brought fabric swatches, paint samples and manufacturers’ pictures of the furniture. The next day I sent them the cost breakdown of their choices and the deposit requirement. A week went by before…
At LIVING SPACES!! Grace wanted to meet there to see sofas and chairs, sit on them. “I wanted to see what you see, Joy, like this lovely chair,” Grace gushed. “What do you think?”
I felt sick. This is not the way it should go! I shuffled through the appointment as they mocked me with piece after piece that mimicked my vendor pics of furniture. Even the fabric was “like” what I suggested and all at half the price. I mumbled something about quality and left early.
Twelve days passed before we met again. Grace wanted to see fabric choices for the window treatments. Stan and Grace opened the door together, big smiles, very excited, then together they ushered me into the Great Room—the all new, fully furnished by “Living Spaces” Great Room!! “What do you think, isn’t it beautiful, this is all because of you, Joy,” cooed Grace as she gave me a big hug. “So what do you think?” Stan probed. I plopped down in Stan’s cheap vinyl recliner and replied, “I am… speechless…may I be excused?” Yep, I left, before I started crying.
I was “shopped” by the sweetest old couple…. How did this happen? This financial disaster, although pleasant in every other way, was my “wake-up call.” I needed to re-examine my procedures, consider why I was dismissed and protect myself from this happening again. Ultimately, I changed three things about how I did business and from that day forward, I was never shopped again.
1. No free consultation meetings. A free meeting does not create value. It does, however, establish your worth. If you are like me, my best stuff is born in the moment of conception, when I enter a room under consideration, all my senses are alerted to what is wrong, right or missing in the design. I usually mumble aloud, “…you need to move that console to that wall, get rid of that chair, the sofa needs to float …etc.” I’m literally giving them the very thing they don’t have, my “worth,” handed to them on a platter!
The first meeting is now a mutual interview. Do we get along, do I see potential for this project, can I get them excited through random ideas and are they prepared to surrender to me as project “manager?”
2. No more vendor “tear sheets” with item numbers, manufacturer names and prices. Now I just use the image with dimensions during the concept presentation, then whip it away! We know the Internet is a predator, looking for innocent shoppers, and it has become way too easy to zip over to Amazon and see if that “Hooker” chest is available!
I try to present as many visual aids as possible: floor plan, elevations, color rendering and collage board of color, style and influences. This sort of individualized concept development gives the project an exclusive air, unique to the client and their specific taste. I find the more complicated the process “appears,” the sooner they are glad I am in charge and stop looking over my shoulder.
3. Charge by the hour! Note: This is specific to residential work only. For one, cost plus, flat fee and retail method of compensation would all be void if “shopped” during a project. We all know the days of fabulous finds available only to designers are over, and anyone can get a resale number! What we have to offer the public as designers is now different. Your job is to sell the client on your worth. That means translating your service into benefits that are important to the client and educating the client on the “value” of design services.
A client’s long time challenge could be remedied with a casual observation by the designer. A minute to say, but years of experience made it possible…for this, and every other hard-earned opinion one should be paid.
The following, is from Lessons can be learned when interior designers get shopped, an article published in Multibriefs: Exclusive by Fred Berns, a coach and promotional writer for interior designers.
Most interior design professionals cringe at the thought of providing design ideas to prospects, only to have them take their business elsewhere.
But what “shoppers” are telling you is that you’re not selling them. They’re sending you a message that you are not communicating your value in a way that convinces them that they should absolutely, positively buy from you.
You should be thankful they’re giving you a wake-up call. They’re letting you know they don’t get what you got, don’t understand what makes you different, special and unique. They don’t understand that because you haven’t adequately informed them.
When they shop you and/or drop you, they are simply informing you that they don’t view you as a priority.
Getting shopped is a sure sign you’re not asking prospects enough of the right “pain” questions. A sales-savvy design professional carefully probes into the major challenges prospects face when it comes to their design project — and then positions himself or herself as the one most qualified to help overcome those challenges.
At a time when it’s never been easier for prospects to buy design services and products elsewhere, the one thing they can’t get elsewhere is you.
Do you say that? Do you remind prospective clients that, if they go elsewhere, they’ll miss the benefits of exactly what you offer?
Next time point out that, if they shop around, they’ll miss out on the benefits of exactly what you offer. Chances are they won’t get your …
- team (contractors, etc.)
- vendors and suppliers
- other resources
- product knowledge
- industry knowledge
- insights about local design trends
- commitment to customer service
- attention to detail
- guarantees and warranties
There are a whole lot of ways prospects would rather spend their time than shopping around for the best interior design professional to meet their needs. You can and will get their business — and will likely develop lasting relationships with them — by spelling out your unique benefits.”